Neighborhood Preservation – Design Center – Norfolk, VA



The life expectancy of a 100+ year-old frame houses reaches a point of critical repair or removal that is a challenge for city planners to maintain traditional urban neighborhoods, such as Norfolk, VA. How can city planners control what happens to maintain or restore the original character of these streets? ENTER: The Design Center conveniently operating in a storefront on a sidewalk of the downtown core: an administrative office, under the Department of Planning, to advise/regulate the redevelopment and preservation of urban neighborhoods.

 

Any new/replacement house on a lot 50’ or narrower has to be approved by the watchful eye of The Design Center. (At Building Permit Review no plan gets a permit unless and until its design is approved by the Design Center.) Where does the DC get the plans to recommend for replacement? ANSWER: from its catalog of prior-approved plans contributed by local architects and designers. As an alternative, the property owner can create a new plan for submittal/review/approval by the Design Center.  Here’s a sample of some ready-to-build urban house plans.

 

 

The redevelopment of a NARROW LOT is an aggravated issue in Norfolk, Virginia. In the early 1900’s developments were platted with 25’ and 30’ lots. These small lots had a very attractive price for prospective buyers. It may have been a “bait and switch” marketing strategy since many of the lots were sold in pairs. But it did result many streets with very compact home frontages. A hundred years later we now see these streets as “quaint”, “neighborly”, “walkable”, but not “parkable” (damn that automobile!)

Since any given neighborhood street has its own special architectural character or style, house plan choices recommended by the Design Center are limited to those that are best suited upon an inspection and photo documentation of the adjacent properties and across the street. This architectural sensitivity has produced very constructive results, without a backlash of homeowner controversy. Norfolk’s Design Center initiated its mission in 2004, staffed by planners and aspiring architects including interns from nearby Hampton University, School of Architecture.

Added to the mission of prescribing acceptable house plan designs for narrow lot properties the Design Center has been available for free “drop in” architectural consultation services for a homeowner wanting to make improvements to an already existing house needing repairs or an addition. This consultation included a staff designer making a visual site inspection of the resident’s home to measure and photograph an existing structure, to talk to the home owner about their desired improvements and additions and to provide conceptual design recommendations for the homeowner to pursue.

The “cherry on the top” of this new urbanism agenda is a TAX ABATEMENT program whereby a homeowner could apply for a deferred increase in the real estate taxes (up to 10 years worth) associated with the construction improvements consistent with the conceptual design recommendations provided by the Design Center. What could be simpler than that? …an incentive to control the original architectural neighborhood style, historical charm, pedestrian livability. Are you loving it?

Ready for the back story? Everyone loved it, including local new urbanism architects, like yours truly, since we participated in providing those pre-approved plans. It also wasn’t too mysterious to flip through the plans catalog to find the name of a local architect that would be able to complete the building plans for additions and alterations that would gain tax abatement approval. That happy world came to an end in 2011 with a cutback in local government funding. The free consultation services are no more. The storefront where citizens walked in to discuss their addition plans has closed its doors.

The operational model of the Norfolk Design Center has been envied by municipalities for years, including Baltimore, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Newport News, Williamsburg, and others. The more character there is to preserve in a city’s existing neighborhood street fabric the greater the appeal of this model to preserve and control it. It was staffed by two full-time architects, part-time architect interns, volunteers and staff. It became a lunch-and-learn venue for architects in the Hampton Roads AIA to attend special seminars and other times for citizens to get guidance for product information and architectural design styling.

I am interested in feedback on value of this model for architectural design control for preserving and promoting the ideals of new urbanism, from planners, homeowners and other design professionals. Is the model for the Design Center an applicable idea for the city where you live? How should it be housed and staffed to reduce expenses? In Norfolk the tax abatement program and the narrow lot approval regulatory authority have moved back to the regular administrative offices of Norfolk City Planning. I wonder what difference this will make in what it is able to accomplish. I think it is a sad loss.

Did you like this? Share it:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



2 Responses to “Neighborhood Preservation – Design Center – Norfolk, VA”

|
  1. Acquanetta Ellis says:

    Thanks your support and for your kind words.

  2. That is a crying shame. It seems that something that worked has been trodden on.

    Architects Norfolk

|

  • GREGORY M. FRECH

    Urban Underbelly is a blog that seeks to share the back stories of successes and struggles in achieving the visions of New Urbanism, especially in Hampton Roads, Virginia

    New Urbanism: is a city planning and architecture movement directed at the creation and restoration of vibrant neighborhood places: centralized, sustainable, walkable and socially diverse.
  • Social Media

  • Residential PROJECTS
    Award Winning Beach Bungalow OBX – The Westly
    Lynnhaven River Makeover
    Winthrope Avenue Residence
    Greene Residence
    Burnette Residence
    Tibideaux Residence
    Straley Residence
    Stewart Residence
    Simkins Residence
    O’Connel Residence
    Kyrus Residence
    Klar Residence
    Kesler Residence
    Gerloff Residence
    Drinkwalter Residence
    Commercial PROJECTS
    Reginella’s Trattoria & Pizzeria
    Chamberlayne Ave. Storage
    Linkhorn Bay Condo
    Captain George’s Restaurant
    Self Storage: Historical Renovation
    Self Storage: Curved Glass Façade
    Self-Storage: Phased Construction
    Self-Storage: Building Reuse
    Morning Star Self-storage
    Self-Storage: A Good Neighbor
    Neighborhood Office Building
    Kettler Headquarters
    Cagney’s Restaurant
    Self-Storage: Structural Innovation
    Planning PROJECTS
    Buckroe Beach, Hampton Virginia
    Knotts Creek Refuge
    Virginia Beach Community Development Cooperation
    Cypress Cove Commons
    Bishop Court
    Curtis Residence
    Burton Station Office Park

    Green PROJECTS
    EarthCraft Residence
    Frech Residence
    NRHA
    Torope Residence
    Fortner Residence
    Interiors PROJECTS
    The Nicholson Companies, Norfolk, VA
    Kantor Residence, Norfolk, VA
    Cape Henry Residence
    Lochhaven Residence
    Nicholson Residence
    Waterside Interior Renovation

    Awards
    Cedar Grove Apartments
    HomeArama 2010 East Beach
    Church Point Shopping Center
    Church Point Historical Manor
    Smithfield Affordable Sustainable Workforce Housing
    Beach Park West Apartments